Ford C-Max Does Not Beat Prius V Wagon In Real-World Use

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2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid, Los Angeles, August 2012

2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid, Los Angeles, August 2012

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We've written quite a lot about the gas mileage of Ford's two new 2013 hybrid models, the C-Max and Fusion hybrids.

That's because a lot of shoppers and buyers have been talking about it.

Both cars are rated at 47 mpg combined, and neither car seems to achieve anything close to that rating in varied real-world usage.

Our own latest test of a 2013 Fusion Hybrid, for instance, covered two days and 244 miles and resulted in a fuel-economy reading of 36.8 mpg.

Our test routine, however, is to drive all our cars on a consistent route as we would use them in real life.

That lets us compare different cars to each other, and over time, we've found that our results tally quite closely to owner experiences--if not always EPA ratings.

Now another outlet has brought more rigor to testing the Ford C-Max Hybrid against its closest competitor, the Toyota Prius V wagon (it also included a Prius liftback in its test).

The CleanMPG site (known for its active forums and a strong propensity toward extreme hypermiling) looked specifically at Ford's advertising claim that the C-Max Hybrid gets better gas mileage than the Prius V.

Based on EPA ratings--the only numbers automakers are legally allowed to advertise--that's true. The C-Max is rated at 47 mpg combined, the Prius V at 42 mpg combined.

The article itself is very long, with explanations of the methodology used, route and elevation maps, lots of data to dig into, and photos, maps, and graphs galore.

We recommend that you read the whole piece, titled Ford's 47 mpg City/Highway/Combined Hybrid Ratings Ring Hollow, to understand the thoroughness of the test...but stop reading this piece here if you don't want to hear the bottom line.

Consider this your spoiler alert.


2012 Toyota Prius V hybrid wagon, test drive in Catskill Mountains, Jan 2012

2012 Toyota Prius V hybrid wagon, test drive in Catskill Mountains, Jan 2012

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At the end of CleanMPG's lengthy and detailed test, the observed city driving results for the Ford C-Max delivered 52.0 mpg (against its rated 47 mpg) while the Toyota Prius V logged 55.8 mpg (versus a rating of 44 mpg).

On the highway, the Ford C-Max delivered 35.5 mpg (versus its rated 47 mpg) while the Toyota Prius V came in at 40.8 mpg (against its rated 40 mpg).

In both cases, the Prius V did better against its ratings than the C-Max Hybrid.

That squares with our observation that Toyota Prius models deliver real-world mileage much closer to their EPA ratings than the two new Ford hybrids.

The Priuses have less powerful engines and smaller electric motors, meaning that they're likely more stressed on the unrealistic EPA test cycles than the Ford hybrids.

Or, put another way, the Ford hybrids do much better on the relatively gentle EPA testing runs than they do in real-world driving--when drivers will sometimes (or often) use all the power available under their right foot.

This hasn't stopped Ford from continuing to trumpet the superior EPA ratings. As the site concludes,

Ford’s claims of the C-Max's superiority in city, highway and combined fuel economy over the Prius v per its EPA ratings in press releases and advertisements continue even with the number of counter claims provided by journalists, automobile reviewers, and anecdotal comparison evidence by some very important automotive media outlets.

In any event, we tip our hat to CleanMPG for providing another data point in the discussion of Ford's real-world gas mileage for its C-Max and Fusion hybrid models.

ow serious a problem do you think the Ford hybrid discrepancies are? Does the difference between, say, 37 mpg and 47 mpg in actual driving really affect buyers?

Or are the cars good enough--and still more efficient than non-hybrid competitors in their class--that it won't really matter much?

Leave us your thoughts in the Comments below.


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Comments (39)
  1. Ford obviously set out to unseat Toyota and designed their car around the test cycle to trump the Prius. Having that sticker and advertising rights is a big plus for Ford. Stupid idea as it will back fire on them eventually.

  2. I have owned the C-Max since December and have 3000 miles on it so far and I am averaging 36 MPG... realisticly it is more like 40 City/25 Hwy/36 combined. Now I live in TX and the speed limits here are generally 75-80 on most hwys, which is a sever detriment to hitting decent mpg. I personally feel the battery is to small and not powerful enough to ever hit the EPA mpgs consistantly. I can have a full battery and be driving efficiently, and the battery drains so quickly that after a few minutes (literally 2 or 3 minutes) the battery will completely drain and the gas will have to kick in... needless to say I am very dissapointed

  3. You don’t report the combined mileage for both vehicles. Most drivers do not typically drive only city or only freeway. Please report the "real-world" combined mileage of both vehicles.

  4. @Richard: Your comment should be directed to the reporters at CleanMPG, not Green Car Reports--though I have to agree with it.

  5. Both the Ford Fusion and the C-Mac plug in hybrids are capable of initially running on electrically for about 20 miles which is more than enough for most city dwellers. Both cars beat the Prius hands down in this regard.

    As a driving experience for both city and highway, the Prius is appalling shy and far less comfortable then either Ford cars.

    I would suggest that your evaluation of Ford be better considered. Your too one dimensional and hard of the real world.

  6. @Bernard: Yes, but this article doesn't deal with the plug-in versions, but the standard hybrids (which are considerably less expensive than the low-volume plug-in variants).

    I'd agree with your general assessment of the Prius versus the Fords, though perhaps not in the same language.

    But that's part of the point: The more pleasant driving experience of the Fords seems to come with a cost in real-world gas mileage, regardless of what the EPA ratings may be.

  7. Your evaluation should have mentioned the Ford plug-ins because for reasons that I have already given, that information should have influenced your conclusions. In the interests of telling the complete story, I would have mentioned the plug-ins.

    I have seen mileage experiences that are greater then the one experience that you described. I also drove the Prius in the city of San Francisco and never saw the mileage promised.

    Separately the Prius plug-in which provides totally trivial mileage on electric makes little sense. Frankly, I find the Prius so lethargic that's its use on the highway would be limited for me.

  8. @Bernard: Remember that the Energi versions of the two Ford hybrids are available only in limited markets, whereas the hybrids are sold nationwide.

    This wasn't an attempt to tell the "complete story" of every aspect of the cars, but to focus on their real-world fuel economy of the hybrids that are available to every U.S. car buyer.

    And, again, I think your comment is equally well directed at the CleanMPG writers who did the original test that we reported on. No?

  9. The plug-in models are in a totally different class and should only be compared to the Volt or the plug-in Prius. The cost puts them way out of the standard Prius or C-Max Hybrid class.

  10. what a crock this statement makes...USE THE POWER MODE ..the Prius still does well...gee it is funny that the Prius LIne is the number one seller in think it is because they are slower than Fords...not a chance...Fords more powerful engines and heavier weight is what blows there claims out of the water..less power.. does not mean less quality...Toyota is by far the more well built Hybrid vehicle...the stats show them 20 to 70 % more dependable and the truth hurts......

  11. But the fact is that Prius is slower than the C-Max.

    Nothing is free. More power will cost more fuel...

    Prius is #1 in California b/c a lot of "green" people like to make "green" statement in California. I call them "green" sheeps...

  12. I agree, it comes down to taste. If you don't mind higher road noise and a the weird dash layout and all you care about is MPG, then get a Prius. If you like driving a more refined car, but want better MPG, then the C-Max is a good option. But 47MPG is a farce and is only attainable in a perfect senario. I avg 42 with mostly in-town driving in slightly hilly area with a lot of stop-n-go traffic, but in short durations.

  13. "Most city dwellers" that buy Fusion / C-Max live in CA and they average more than 20 miles to work. The article is about MPG, not comfort level. The Fusion should be compared to the Camry anyway, in which case they lose on all characteristics/comparisons.

  14. I live in San Francisco along with millions of people in the bay area. I can tell you that 20 miles on electric is not at all trivial particularly relative to the 3 miles for the Prius.

    Additionally, the Ford's acceleration capability next to the Prius gets a thumbs up on the highway.

    I must say the Ford plug-ins to be more than a match for the Prius on efficiency, comfort, acceleration including the ability to get out of tight spots among very aggressive drivers on freeways.

  15. I had a 2011 Camry that was a piece of junk - got worse mpg than my 2004 BMW 3 series that I traded in on it. I got rid of the Camry and bought a 2012 Ford Focus. I never had any trouble getting the mpg that Ford said it would get. In fact I got more. The car was rated at 37 highway and I would get 40 frequently. I just traded that in today for a 2013 C-Max energi which in electric mode at speeds of 50 and under gave me 150 MPGE this afternoon!

  16. congratulations on your purchase. Your C-Max Energi is a much better plugin than a Prius Plugin.

    But don't confuse the 150mpge with 150 "fake MPG" (not including electricity usage).

  17. Fusion and C-Max Plugins are rated even lower in their "extended range" MPG. Its hwy MPG is only 41mpg in extended range.

    Like I calculated before, based on the weight, tires and power alone, those Fusion and C-Max won't achieve the 47MPG EPA rating in the "real world". But achieving 38-40mpg in real world is totally possible.

  18. There are more comments in this thread
  19. That's still why I feel average, MPG, or even worse, MPGe is a waste of time and only represents such a marginal amount of the actual population it would serve.

  20. Someone has said that the Tesla is a brilliant driving experience that happens to be electric. The comment strikes me as a balanced one when the particulars are given and understood.

    Evaluations need to be about a bit more than a one dimension comparative. I certainly agree that efficiency is important. But it needs to be put in a context of other considerations. Certainly, those who evaluate ought to consider more then mpg. Truly there is a capable public out there, who expects more.

  21. That is why many people have chosen the Volt...

    Great efficiency when you need it and good performance when you want it.

  22. Plus the added benefit of being able to cook dinner over it for your family when it bursts into flames while you are on vacation. Yep, 'Merica right thurr. Or should I say Viva La Mexico?

  23. @Roy: For the record, as I *hope* you're aware, there hasn't been a single documented case of any Volt catching fire on the road.

    The widely publicized NHTSA Volt that caught fire did so several DAYS after a crash test, because its battery was not de-energized after it had been hauled to a wrecking yard. Here's the article we wrote on the final investigation:

    Of course, if you know of any actual Volt fires that have occurred, I'm sure the NHTSA would like to know about them--as we would too here at Green Car Reports. Please do post those links here!

  24. I have owned a Ford C-Max SE since November 06, 2012. I live in the mountains of western, NC. I'm currently getting around 37 m.p.g. combined. There has NOT been one moment in one day I wish I'd purchased a Prius.

  25. Me too. I regret not having purchased the Prius V, but it's too late. I care less about the power and much more about fuel consumption.

  26. The Hybrids and EREV's make it possible to totally game the EPA cycle, that said, People choose the Ford vs Prius for reasons other then MPG. Price point, size, etc... That said, I think it's a good thing to let the companies game this test. It will drive EPA to have a broader suite of tests.

  27. I am NOT sure if EPA is in a hurry to change the test...

  28. I really wish they'd stop trying to compare the C-Max hybrid to the Prius V. Size-wize, the C-Max is much more close to the Prius hatchback, which of course makes the real-world mpg comparisons even worse, but at least you're comparing size to size. I don't think someone that wants the size of the V would go for a C-Max.

  29. Actually the C-Max falls between the Prius and Prius V. The cargo capacity of the standard Prius with rear seats folded down is 39.6 cubic feet. The C-Max has 52.8 cf. The Prius V has 67.3 cf.

  30. I bought a 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid last March. My standard driving style is easy with the right foot and coast as far as I can before having to use the left foot. I do a lot of suburban driving with a few longer distance interstate trips. My overall mileage is just a hair over 40mpg. I'm totally happy with my choice. If I was making the choice this year, I might have chosen the Fusion based on its claimed mpg. I'm glad I didn't wait and make that choice.

  31. Now you know why I actually like the Prius V (while I dislike the rest of the Prius family, especially the Prius C and Prius Plugin).

  32. Hi John,

    Thanks for the link. Did you notice another interesting information from the "study"? In the Hwy test,

    C-Max displayed 37.2mpg while it was measured to be 35.537mpg.
    Prius V displayed 43.6mpg while it was 40.768mpg.
    Prius liftback displayed 47.1mpg while it was 43.298mpg.

    The display in the Prius liftback was off the MOST by %. And that 43mpg matches my personal experience with the Prius.

    Beside C-Max, should we investigate Prius Liftback as well for its "misrepresentation"? If you remember that according to Consumer Report, Ford C-Max and Fusion hybrid were off by the most from its EPA rating, followed by the Prius liftback in their testing...

  33. Your question was will the lower than EPA numbers that Ford gets affect their sales. For the C-Max, I think they will. But the great looks and driving experience of the FFH are leading BMW and Mercedes owners, who would never consider a Prius or Camry, into buying their first hybrid. February FFH sales in LA were up over 600% compared to last year.
    I've had my FFH for four months. I spend the majority of my driving above 70 mph and, combined with a colder than normal winter, I average 36 mpg, which is more than twice my last vehicle. I'm extremely happy with my FFH. If I drive like a granny I get 44+ mpg, but I won't drive that way. My ten mile commute home gets between 38-42 mpg.

  34. I do hope that the EPA steps in to adjust the Ford hybrid gas mileage ratings. That said, the driving experience between a C-Max and a Prius V is very different. The C-Max is a much more spirited drive. It's actually a very nice, small wagon that gets good gas mileage of around 37-38. As to performance, consider what Consumer Reports found in their test. A C-Max does 0-60 in 8.4 and 45-65 in 5.1, whereas a Prius V does 0-60 in 10.7 and 45-65 in 6.7. If one doesn't need quite the space of a Prius V and would like a much improved driving experience at a small cost in gas mileage, the C-Max is worth checking out.

  35. You got duped by Ford and you're trying to justify the car by driving performance? You buy a hybrid for the mileage, and after a week of owning one you adjust to a slightly different driving experience so you can enjoy saving cash at the gas pump. It's unfair to say the Prius is that much different. I don't think a 2.3 second difference in 0 to 60 justifies a 10 mpg difference from EPA. I'll take 10 mpg savings over 2.3 seconds any day. Face the facts everyone, Ford messed up, and people paid good money for their cars. It's not like buying a flat screen TV, this is like $25,000+ and $300-$400 monthly for 4-5 years. You should feel like you paid for 47 mpg combined and will get close to it everyday. Shame on you Ford!!! This is terrible!!

  36. I own a Ç-Max SEL and I purchased it knowing full well that 47mpg was a pipe dream, but understood that 37-43mpg in town was pretty realistic depending on the season and driving habits. I made my choice because the weird dash of the Prius is horribly ugly, made of lightweight cheap plastics and was a very noisy test drive. The C-Max has more power, which is handy when you need it, a great seating position for a tall, big man with bad knees and a NORMAL dash layout. Plus, it doesn't scream, "Look! I'm driving a hybrid!" Plus, the C-Max is very quiet with good sound insulation and noise cancelation. So, with that, one must choose between just MPG or a better driving experience? I'm glad I own a C-Max.

  37. We own a C-Max. In warm weather you can get 47 MPG overall but you have to avoid the temptation to use all 188 HP. We got 47.8 on last tank of gas.

  38. I have a 2008 Prius that is loaded to the max for its day. I really like the looks of the C-Max and a friend just purchased one that is loaded. I went to the dealer today with two teenage girls to use as passengers on a test drive. Pros: it is peppier than my Prius. It sits higher, has better headroom, has tighter suspension. It feels heavier and better built. Interior is quiet. Cons: less trunk space than the Prius. The turn radius was not as tight as my Prius. The girls rode in the back and stated the seats were hard and uncomfortable compared to the Prius. The dealer said that a software upgrade was coming out so it would get the mileage as listed. The price comparing apples to apples in options I wanted - the C-Max was $5,000 more.

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